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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What's going on in the World Today 180801



Boeing Delivers Multiple Laser Weapon Systems To Warfighters

Laser weapons are moving from development and testing to production and deployment, with the need to counter the growing threat from small unmanned aircraft leading the way.
Boeing has delivered multiple Compact Laser Weapon Systems (CLWS) to the U.S. Marine Corps for testing by an operational unit.

With power levels of 2-10 kW, the modular CLWS is one of the first high-energy laser system to begin the transition from development to production. But Boeing is also moving ahead with work on more powerful tactical and strategic laser weapons, says Ron Dauk, directed energy program manager.

CLWS uses industrial fiber lasers packaged by Boeing with a small beam director and integrated power and thermal management to produce a system that stands alone, or can be installed in a container or mounted on a Stryker armored vehicle.

The system is being used to train soldiers and show the capability that laser weapons bring to the battlefield.

“It gives you a low cost per shot against quadcopters and a deep magazine,” Dauk says. “As long as there is power, it can keep firing...”






Pentagon announces $200 million in aid for Ukraine

US soldiers march along main Khreshchatyk Street during during a military parade to celebrate Independence Day in Kiev, Ukraine, Aug. 24, 2017. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

Days after President Donald Trump challenged whether the U.S. should honor its Article 5 collective defense commitments to defend tiny NATO member Montenegro, the Pentagon reassured its Eastern European allies it would continue to be a deterrent presence against Russian aggression and committed an additional $200 million to the defense of Ukraine.

The funds will go toward “training, equipment and advisory efforts to build the defensive capacity of Ukraine’s forces,” the Pentagon said in a statement Friday.

The new funds bring the total amount of U.S. assistance to $1 billion since Russian-backed forces invaded Crimea in 2014...

EU signs its biggest free trade deal with Japan

The European Union and Japan have signed one of the world's biggest free trade deals, covering nearly a third of the world's GDP and 600 million people.

One of the biggest EU exports to Japan is dairy goods, while cars are one of Japan's biggest exports...


Communist-run Cuba starts rolling out internet on mobile phones

HAVANA (Reuters) - Communist-run Cuba has started providing internet on the mobile phones of select users as it aims to roll out the service nationwide by year-end, in a further step toward opening one of the Western Hemisphere’s least connected countries.

Journalists at state-run news outlets were among the first this year to get mobile internet, provided by Cuba’s telecoms monopoly, as part of a wider campaign for greater internet access that new President Miguel Diaz-Canel has said should boost the economy and help Cubans defend their revolution.

Analysts said broader web access will also ultimately weaken the government’s control of what information reaches people in the one-party island state that has a monopoly on the media. Cuba frowns on public dissent and blocks access to dissident websites.

“It’s been a radical change,” said Yuris Norido, 39, who reports for several state-run news websites and the television. “I can now update on the news from wherever I am, including where the news is taking place.”

Certain customers, including companies and embassies, have also been able to buy mobile data plans since December, according to the website of Cuban telecoms monopoly ETECSA, which has not broadly publicized the move.

ETECSA has said it will expand mobile internet to all its 5 million mobile phone customers, nearly half of Cuba’s population, by the end of this year. ETECSA did not reply to a request for more details for this story.

Whether because of a lack of cash, a long-running U.S. trade embargo or concerns about the flow of information, Cuba has lagged behind in web access. Until 2013, internet was largely only available to the public at tourist hotels in Cuba...




In China, Unweaving the Tangled Web of Local Debt


- A slower economy, sluggish construction growth, weaker local government revenue and a sharp jump in maturing debt could boost the risk of default for some local government-related debt, particularly in the central and southwest regions.
- Despite previous announcements, Beijing may step in to assist or even bail out some loans if defaults accelerate.

- The urgency of the risk will compel the central government to accelerate efforts to revamp the country's tax structure, but its ability will be limited by the uncertain economic situation.

The sword of Damocles is hanging over Chinese local governments. After the 2008 financial crisis, Beijing began embracing economic stimulation as it scrambled to prop up growth and protect its near-universal employment. In doing this, the central authorities demanded that local governments bear the brunt of the fiscal and financial responsibilities for road, railway and other infrastructure projects; it rewarded them with lucrative credit and looser oversight amid a skyrocketing real estate market. A decade later, local debt – and the tangled web behind some of the loans – has become the greatest pain to the economy as local revenue fails to keep pace with spending, investment returns fall and the property market dips. And all of these are plucking at the single thread holding the sword over the heads of local governments, threatening the once unimaginable: default – along with all the resulting social and political fallout...


Iran Takes U.S. to Court Over Nuclear Deal and Reimposed Sanctions

Iran has sued the United States at the International Court of Justice in a new, if dubious, strategy to nullify the nuclear sanctions reimposed by President Trump, which are starting to inflict pain on Iran’s already troubled economy.

The International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, said in a statement on Tuesday that the lawsuit was based on a treaty signed by Iran and the United States more than a half-century ago — well before the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the American-backed shah and ushered in the prolonged estrangement in relations between the countries.

The United States vowed to fight what it called a “baseless” lawsuit.

Mr. Trump ordered the nuclear sanctions reimposed on May 8 as part of an announcement withdrawing his government from the 2015 nuclear agreement negotiated by Iran and major powers, including the United States, under the Obama administration.

Mr. Trump has assailed that agreement, which lifted the sanctions in return for Iran’s verifiable pledges to use nuclear power peacefully, as “the worst deal,” despite support for it by the other participants, including Britain, France and Germany, major American allies...

Iran: Currency Reaches New Low

What Happened: Iran's rial reached a historic new low July 30, trading at an average of 112,000 rials to one U.S. dollar on the black market, Bloomberg reported.

Why It Matters: Iranian officials are at a loss for how to keep Iran's currency from continuing to depreciate in value and cause further instability in the country.

Background: Following its departure from the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the United States has targeted Tehran with sanctions, causing market instability in the country.


Iraq's Water Crisis Gives the Public One More Reason to Protest


- Water shortages will plague Iraq throughout the summer, causing a decline in agricultural production and a greater risk of social unrest in the southern part of the country.

- Political gridlock in Baghdad will impede progress on water management, while fighting over water at the provincial level will influence discourse at the federal level.

- Turkey will focus on maintaining and advancing its own strategy in Iraq without making any substantial changes over its water use....




Back to the Basics: Above and Beyond CVID with North Korea

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s high-profile post-summit visit to North Korea—the first to follow Kim and Trump’s initial meeting—ended without much progress, revealing the Trump administration’s struggle to craft a strategy that will jumpstart denuclearization efforts. Nearly a month after the June summit in Singapore, both the US and North Korea are still sending mixed messages as to whether and how they will approach denuclearization, fueling skepticism about North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons and hinting at the US’s lack of a coherent strategy in dealing with the regime.

The US has continuously reiterated its goal, before and after the June summit, to achieve the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization (CVID) of North Korea. Contrary to its spoken commitment, however, no discussion of CVID appears in official documents shared or co-drafted with North Korea, inviting criticism of Trump’s loud yet (allegedly) ineffectual negotiating skills from those who believe that a deal could and should be made on the firm basis of CVID.

The Trump administration may still be occupied with the concept of CVID. In truth, though, CVID is no longer a realistic goal with North Korea and it is highly unlikely that Kim would accede to such an arrangement. We need to face this reality and recognize that denuclearization will not and cannot be permanent or irreversible as long as there is a desire to reverse it. Furthermore, denuclearization will not by itself put an end to the longstanding North Korean threat to the outside world. Any denuclearization deal—big or small, vague or specific—with the current North Korean regime is almost certainly reversible, but such a deal with a normal North Korea would be considerably less so. In this regard, future negotiations with North Korea should focus on not just denuclearization but also the normalization of the country...

North Korea working on new missiles, US officials say, despite thaw

North Korea appears to be building new ballistic missiles despite recent warming ties with the Trump administration and pledges to denuclearise, reports say.

Unnamed US officials told the Washington Post that spy satellites had spotted continuing activity at a site that has produced ballistic missiles.

Reuters quotes an official as saying it is unclear how far the work has gone.

After the first meeting between sitting leaders from the two countries, the two men pledged to work towards denuclearisation. Mr Trump later said North Korea was "no longer a nuclear threat".

But Mr Trump was criticised at home for making concessions without securing any firm commitment from Mr Kim to end the nuclear and missile programmes.

These are not the first reports that North Korea may be continuing its weapons programme, casting doubt on the real impact of the summit in Singapore...


Russia fears leak of hypersonic missile secrets to West

Media captionRussia released military footage - including its new ultra-fast missiles

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) has raided a space research facility after a suspected leak of hypersonic missile secrets to Western spies.
The state space agency Roskosmos said its security staff were co-operating with FSB officers on a criminal case.

Russia's Kommersant daily says about 10 staff at a Roskosmos facility called TsNIIMash are under suspicion. A director's office was searched.
Hypersonic missiles fly at more than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5).

On Thursday the Russia defence ministry released video of two new hypersonic missile systems - called Kinzhal and Avangard. Both can deliver nuclear warheads.
But Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer told the BBC he was very sceptical about their effectiveness and dismissed the video as "propaganda". He called the spy investigation "politically embarrassing".
The suspects in the secrets case could be charged with high treason, Kommersant reports...


Displaced Syrians march close to Israel; airstrike kills 10

BEIRUT — Dozens of Syrians displaced by a government offensive marched toward the Israel-occupied Golan Heights in a rare peaceful protest on Tuesday, shortly after a suspected Russian airstrike hit a school serving as a shelter in southwestern Syria, killing at least 10 people, according to activists.

The marchers waved white flags at Israeli soldiers as they walked toward the frontier in the Golan Heights, demanding protection from the relentless airstrikes, before they turned back.

The brief protest came as Syrian and Russian airstrikes have intensified in the Quneitra countryside and the southwestern Daraa province.

Tuesday’s airstrike hit in the village of Ain el-Tineh in Quneitra province, about 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the Israeli frontier, according to a Syrian search and rescue team...


When It Comes to Cyberattacks, Iran Plays the Odds

Global Security Analyst, Stratfor As tensions rise with the United States, hackers in Iran are expected to boost their attacks in the coming months.(Shutterstock)


-While Iran is capable of carrying out conventional military action, cyberspace is the more likely theater for its current conflict with the United States.

-Iran's cyber threat groups tend to use unsophisticated yet tried-and-true tactics while targeting many individuals.
Awareness, knowledge and preparation are the best tools to defend against such tactics.

-The war of words between the United States and Iran appears to be heating up in cyberspace. In recent weeks, the tension has grown palpable as the United States leads the drive to reimpose sanctions on Iran beginning Aug. 6. U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have traded heated threats with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force.

Though both sides are certainly capable of direct physical attacks, conventional warfare is not in their immediate interests. Iran has embraced cyberattacks as part of its asymmetric response to its Middle Eastern rivals and the United States, and this latest round of belligerence will likely be played out through cyber actions. And even though Iran doesn't pose as great a threat as China or Russia, its persistence and reliance on unsophisticated, yet tried-and-true tactics allow it to be successful in both cyber espionage and disruptive cyberattacks...




How Silicon Valley Became a Den of Spies

The West Coast is a growing target of foreign espionage. And it’s not ready to fight back.

SAN FRANCISCO—In the fall of 1989, during the Cold War’s wan and washed-out final months, the Berlin Wall was crumbling—and so was San Francisco. The powerful Loma Prieta earthquake, the most destructive to hit the region in more than 80 years, felled entire apartment buildings. Freeway overpasses shuddered and collapsed, swallowing cars like a sandpit. Sixty-three people were killed and thousands injured. And local Soviet spies, just like many other denizens of the Bay Area, applied for their share of the nearly $3.5 billion in relief funds allocated by President George H.W. Bush.

FBI counterintelligence saw an opening, recalled Rick Smith, who worked on the Bureau’s San Francisco-based Soviet squad from 1972 to 1992. When they discovered that a known Soviet spy, operating under diplomatic cover, had filed a claim, Smith and several other bureau officials posed as federal employees disbursing relief funds to meet with the spy. The goal was to compromise him with repeated payments, then to turn him. “We can offer your full claim,” Smith told the man. “Come meet us again.” He agreed.

But the second time, the suspected intel officer wasn’t alone. FBI surveillance teams reported that he was being accompanied by a Russian diplomat known to the FBI as the head of Soviet counterintelligence in San Francisco. The operation, Smith knew, was over—the presence of the Soviet spy boss meant that the FBI’s target had reported the meeting to his superiors—but they had to go through with the meeting anyway. The two Soviet intelligence operatives walked into the office room. The undercover FBI agents, who knew the whole affair had turned farcical, greeted the Soviet counterintelligence chief.

“What,” he replied, “You didn’t expect me to come?”

We tend to think of espionage in the United States as an East Coast phenomenon: shadowy foreign spies working out of embassies in Washington, or at missions to the United Nations in New York; dead drops in suburban Virginia woodlands, and surreptitious meetings on park benches in Manhattan’s gray dusk.

But foreign spies have been showing up uninvited to San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a very long time. According to former U.S. intelligence officials, that’s true today more than ever. In fact, they warn—especially because of increasing Russian and Chinese aggressiveness, and the local concentration of world-leading science and technology firms—there’s a full-on epidemic of espionage on the West Coast right now. And even more worrisome, many of its targets are unprepared to deal with the growing threat.

Unlike on the East Coast, foreign intel operations here aren’t as focused on the hunt for diplomatic secrets, political intelligence or war plans. The open, experimental, cosmopolitan work and business culture of Silicon Valley in particular has encouraged a newer, “softer,” “nontraditional” type of espionage, said former intelligence officials—efforts that mostly target trade secrets and technology. “It’s a very subtle form of intelligence collection that is more business connected and oriented,” one told me. But this economic espionage is also ubiquitous. Spies “are very much part of the everyday environment” here, said this person. Another former intelligence official told me that, at one point recently, a full 20 percent of all the FBI’s active counterintelligence-related intellectual property cases had originated in the Bay Area. (The FBI declined to comment for this story.)...

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